Some Presbyterian churches have distinguishing features, like a steeple that points to the sky and beautiful wooden pews that creak with age. Some churches also have front doors that are painted red, leaving many people to wonder why.
Presbyterian church doors are painted red because of the color’s importance in the Bible. The Passover and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ are two prominent stories in which blood plays an important theological role. The affordability of red paint in previous centuries helped establish this tradition.
Why would a church want people to think of blood when they enter their building? Why was red paint more affordable than other colors? Do churches in other denominations and traditions paint their doors red, too? Keep reading to learn more.
The biblical basis for a red door
There is no verse in the Bible that instructs churches to paint their doors red. However, blood is a very important topic in the Bible because life is in it (Lev. 17:11). Many descriptions of blood in the Bible are literal, but the imagery of it is also significant because it symbolizes life.
For example, when a writer mentions large quantities of blood (e.g. Rev. 14:20), the intention is to convey that many people died:
“The grapes were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress in a stream about 180 miles long and as high as a horse’s bridle.”Revelation 14:20 (ESV) emphasis added
Red doors on Presbyterian churches are likely connected to two Bible stories in particular. The first story, referred to as the Passover, is from the Old Testament. The other story is the crucifixion of Christ from the New Testament.
What is the Passover? Passover is an Old Testament story from the book of Exodus. The term also refers to the annual commemoration of the event. In the story, God sent an angel of death to judge all the firstborn Egyptians males (Exod. 12:12).
The angel would “pass over” the homes of the Israelites who put blood on their doorposts: “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it” (Exod. 12:7).
“For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”Exodus 12:13-14 (ESV) emphasis added
What is the crucifixion of Christ? Doctrinally, Christianity teaches that Christ’s death provides an atonement for sin, and along with his resurrection, is the means of salvation. Crucifixion as a form of death was brutal and bloody (Matt. 27:45-66, John 19:18-37). Because Christ’s death is an atonement for sin, Bible writers use the imagery of his blood to describe realities about forgiveness. For example, John writes,
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”1 John 1:7 (ESV) emphasis added
Blood protects and saves the faithful
People who are unfamiliar with the Bible may find the mention and imagery of blood disturbing at first. Yet blood is important in the Bible, and therefore to Christians, because of what it conveys theologically. Blood protected God’s people during the Passover, saving them from physical death. The Passover foreshadows the ultimate “pass over” of Christ’s death as his blood saves people from physical and eternal death.
When Presbyterian churches paint their doors red, it’s suggests that God’s people worship in that place. Passing through a red door reminds sinful people that God has mercifully provided a way for the condemned to have new life. The same God that saved the Israelites from the angel of death and who offered His only son (John 3:16) to save people from eternal death itself, is the same God who has saved them and who they come to worship at church that day. 
Why is the door painted red and not the whole church?
- First, it would take a lot more paint to cover the entire structure as opposed to just the door.
- Second, painting the front door is closer to the Passover story, than painting the entire structure. Some may respond that it wasn’t the door, but the door posts that were covered in blood in Exodus 12. This is true, but churches aren’t trying to mimic the Passover, but remind people of what it foreshadowed — the death of Christ.
- Third, the door is how people enter the church to worship, just like the blood of Christ enables people to be righteous in God’s sight.
Is red paint more affordable than other colors?
While there are important theological reasons why church doors are painted red, there is a practical reason that helped make it possible. Before the modern process of dying paint was established, people had to find certain ingredients to add to a base mixture to create a particular color.
The ingredients used to create red paint were plentiful and could easily be found. This is why European homes starting in the Middle Ages, as well as barns in early American history, were painted red.
How did they make paint? People used various base ingredients to make paint, like milk, but red iron oxide made the color.  The coating provided a layer of protection on doors, which were often made wood. The paint also lasted for a long time. Most importantly, the red color signified an important biblical truth, which is that God has intervened in history and provided a way for sinners to be saved.
The role of tradition in red church doors
In some cases, churches may paint their doors red because they know its traditional, yet they don’t why they are doing it. In the Middle Ages, if churches painted their doors red, it’s possible that the color became a way to identify a structure as being a church. In this way, the symbolic theological meaning may have been lost over the years.
City of Refuge: There is evidence that red doors signified safe places, similar to Cities of Refuge that the Bible describes. Cities of Refuge, mentioned in books like Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, were safe places people accused of a crime could go to escape people who may be seeking revenge.  Refuge cities provided them with security until a trial occurred. In some locations in the Western world, churches have harbored people seeking to flee those who have ill intent and even the government.
Martin Luther: In the time of German Reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), the famous church at Wittenberg may have had red doors. If this is the case, then other Reformed churches may have painted their doors red to signify unity in the movement.
Do other denominations paint their church doors red?
Yes. Churches in the Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic traditions have painted their doors red.
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